The first bitterns to breed in Oxfordshire for more than 150 years have been recorded at the RSPB Otmoor reserve, thanks to the hard work of volunteers.
The bittern, related to the heron, is a rare breeding species in the UK, nesting only in big, wet reedbeds. They are superbly camouflaged and very secretive, however in the breeding season the males make a distinctive booming sound which can be heard over a mile away. While the first 'booming' bittern was recorded at the Otmoor reserve in 2013, it was only recently proved that successful breeding had finally taken place, with the discovery of two nests.
This is welcome news for these enigmatic birds, who've had a tumultuous history in the UK. In the late 19th century they had vanished from our shores; prized as a medieval banquet dish, they were hit by hunting and by loss of their reedbed habitat. They started to re-colonise slowly at the beginning of the 20th century, but due to continuing habitat loss their numbers slumped yet again, and by 1997 there were only eleven booming males across the country.
At Otmoor, the RSPB and the Environment Agency have been working together to bring bitterns back to Oxfordshire. An army of volunteers invested countless hours to transform bare mud islands into a wildlife haven, planting more than 150,000 reed seedlings by hand over seven years. Now the reedbed has matured, it is the centrepiece of the reserve, home not only to the elusive bitterns but also otters, marsh harriers and cranes.
David Wilding, RSPB Site Manager at Otmoor, said: "We are delighted to finally have bitterns breeding in Oxfordshire once again, and with the amazing habitats created at Otmoor we hope to hear bitterns booming here for years to come. We owe much of this success to our brilliant team of volunteers. Otmoor has also benefitted from generous funding and we are extremely grateful to each of our funders as, without their support, this achievement would simply not have been possible."
Graham Scholey, Environment Agency, said: "When we embarked on this project many years ago with the RSPB, the bittern was one of the target species which we hoped would be enticed to breed at the new reserve. That they have now finally bred at this wonderful wetland is testimony to the efforts of all those involved in establishing and managing the site. This is the icing on the cake of what has been a great habitat creation success story."